PC: Katie Martin/ The Atlantic
Ever since the very beginnings of voting in the United States, minority communities have been excluded. At first, the only people who were allowed to vote were white males. As time went on, white women eventually gained the right to vote. Meanwhile, people of color were still not allowed to vote.
"In 1870, Congress passed the last of the three so-called Reconstruction Amendments, the 15th Amendment, which stated that voting rights could not be ‘denied’ or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude."*****
However, state governments could still place restrictions on how people could vote. Many of these state governments were run by white male officials. As a result, Southern states passed Jim Crow laws to suppress poor and racial minority voters. The laws included literacy tests, poll taxes, and other discriminatory practices to lower the number of African American voters. In some instances, people of color would be asked questions with impossible and hard-to-guess answers, such as how many drops of water are needed to fill a bucket, or the number of marbles in a jar.
All of these practices were used to conceal the African American voice and to keep them from voting. Most of these practices became illegal after the passing of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Although these specific practices aren't used anymore, there are other ways in which the votes from people of color are still being suppressed today. Voter suppression ranges from minor changes that make voting less convenient to much larger and intimidating factors that attack prospective voters. As a result, when a vast number of people feel the effects of voter suppression, it can significantly impact the outcomes.
In 2013, the Supreme Court imposed strict voter ID laws. These laws require prospective voters to present a government-issued photo ID to vote. The claim is that these laws protect the integrity of an election and help combat voter fraud. Additionally, "many also claim that these laws impose little burden because everyone has the requisite ID — but the reality is that millions of Americans don’t, and they are disproportionately people of color."* Although the voter ID laws vary depending on the state, they mainly affect the votes coming from minority communities.
PC: The Boston Globe
If we look at Texas, their voter ID laws have a large number of votes from racial minority groups. "…Texas permits voters to use a handgun license to vote, but not a student ID from a state university. More than 80 percent of handgun licenses issued to Texans in 2018 went to white Texans, while more than half of the students in the University of Texas system are racial or ethnic minorities."* It’s interesting to see that a person with a handgun license can vote; meanwhile, a student cannot use their ID to vote. What is more interesting is the fact that most people with a handgun license are white. Strict voter ID laws like these are implemented to suppress the number of votes that are being cast by minorities.
In 2017, Georgia passed a law that required voters’ names on their registration records to match with their identification form. Although it may seem like an insignificant law, it severely swayed the results of the election.
"In the leadup to the 2018 election, approximately 80 percent of Georgia voters whose registrations were blocked by this law were people of color."*
Even though a lawsuit in 2019 forced the state to end this policy it still had significant impacts on its 2018 election. When laws like these are passed, they mainly affect people of color, and it becomes a form of voter suppression.
Other voter suppression measures include closing down the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) offices in minority communities, making it much more difficult for minorities to obtain a voter ID. Another measure used is shutting down polling places in minority communities and systemically depriving minority neighborhoods of poll workers and voting machines.
"15 percent of black respondents and 14 percent of Hispanic respondents said that they had trouble finding polling places on Election Day, versus 5 percent of whites."***
Which is why, people of color have a more challenging time finding a place nearby that they can vote in. Also, since there is a lack of polling places within their communities, people of color tend to have to wait much longer in line to vote than white people do.
In fact, "…voters in predominantly black neighborhoods waited for 29 percent longer, on average, than those in white neighborhoods. They were also about 74 percent more likely to wait for more than half an hour."**
PC: Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters
As a result, many people might not even cast their vote because they don’t have the time to wait. It’s unfair for someone to have to wait longer to vote simply because of the color of their skin. Voter suppression is an injustice, and just because the Jim Crow Laws are no longer around, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t still happening.
It’s also important to note that people who have been convicted of crimes also suffer from voter suppression. People who are convicted of felonies aren’t able to vote until their probation and sentences are over. However, this is determined by the state. Although people who are in jail still maintain the right to vote, many don’t know that they can. Additionally, acquiring the necessary forms to register to vote or to register for an absentee ballot are much more difficult when you don’t have access to the internet.
“Problems with voting in jail disproportionately impact communities of color since almost half (48%) of persons in jail nationally are African American or Latino” (Porter, 2020). Once again, we see how voter suppression is significantly impacting black and brown people.
Overall, these are just a couple of examples in which voter suppression is happening across the United States. The effort to discredit and diminish the number of black and brown voters is real, and it’s happening in several ways, from shutting down polling places, implementing strict voter ID laws to providing fewer voting machines and poll workers in minority communities. It’s an injustice that people of color often have a much more difficult time with voting than white people do. We are all Americans and deserve equal voting rights.
*Johnson, T. R., & Feldman, M. (2020, October 19). The New Voter Suppression. Retrieved November 02, 2020, from https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/new-voter-suppression
**Garisto, D. (2019, October 01). Smartphone Data Show Voters in Black Neighborhoods Wait Longer. Retrieved November 03, 2020, from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/smartphone-data-show-voters-in-black-neighborhoods-wait-longer1/
***Newkirk II, V. R. (2020, June 16). Voter Suppression Is Warping Democracy. Retrieved November 02, 2020, from https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/07/poll-prri-voter-suppression/565355/
****Porter, N. D. (2020, May 07). Voting in Jails. Retrieved November 02, 2020, from https://www.sentencingproject.org/publications/voting-in-jails/
*****Pruitt, S. (2020, January 29). When Did African Americans Actually Get the Right to Vote? Retrieved November 02, 2020, from https://www.history.com/news/african-american-voting-right-15th-amendment